Cozy, Cute, and Charming

snowman bulletin boardTo modify a line from Tolkien, “Even the smallest library can change the course of the future.” This is absolutely true of the children’s room at the Mary Jacobs Memorial Library in Rocky Hill, New Jersey. It’s small, yes. But it is filled with books, fun, and sunshine. It’s the perfect place to instill a love of books in future readers.

Here’s a bookshelf that’s just begging to be browsed. And look at those adorable wall decals! The staff update them from time to time to keep the room fresh and interesting. Decals are an easy, inexpensive, and non-permanent way to jazz up a space. The farm decals you see below, for example, are $13.99 on All Posters.com (and the company’s almost always running 15% off deals).

shelvesIn addition to a big sofa and two comfy armchairs, the children’s room has three sets of kid-sized tables and chairs. They are nestled in front of the sunny windows, which overlook trees, grass, and the town’s main street.

farm tableThe children’s room also has toys for kids to play with. They’re kept in a centralized area that allows for quick and easy clean up. My kids are partial to the castle set, the giant foam blocks, and the vehicles. There are also activity towers for babies to explore.

back cornerAnd speaking of babies, here’s one of my favorite touches in the room…

baby surprise 1I call these “baby surprises.” Scattered throughout the room, at infant eye level, are images for babies to discover and revisit. Fantastic idea!

baby surprise 2And don’t forget to give Brownie, the room’s resident bear, a big hug!

big bearOutside the children’s room are shelves containing materials for older readers.

author tableThere are awesome touches here, too. Like this fabulous ship.

ship in stacksThe staff change the library’s bulletin boards every month. Sometimes, they’re seasonal, sometimes they’re thematic, and sometimes they’re matched to a library program. Often, the staff will post games like “Vote for your favorite Dr. Seuss story” or display kids’ artwork.

maker day bulletin boardLet’s get a closer look at that splendid box robot, shall we?

robot I love everything about this guy. The steel wool hair, the tea strainer eyes, the plastic cup ears wrapped with pipe cleaners. Youth services librarian Katie Winjum is responsible for this handsome fellow. She also does the bulletin boards and general decor. Like this super-sized snowman door. Fun!

snowman doorA few summer’s ago, when the library had a “Dig Into Reading” theme, Katie hand-rolled a zillion paper cone stalactites and attached them to the ceiling! The shelves were adorned with things like head lamps and gold bars (i.e., boxes wrapped in gold foil). I was seriously impressed. A tip of the crafting hat to you, Katie!

I’m obviously not a professional photographer, but I sincerely hope the library’s welcoming atmosphere comes through in these photos. When you walk in, you immediately know that you’re invited to make yourself comfortable and read something wonderful. It’s the perfect place for little readers.

amazing space

Character Books

fawkesDo red and gold feathers, priceless tears, and a box of matches remind you of anyone? If you guessed Fawkes, the phoenix from Harry Potter, you are correct! We had a blast with this “character book” activity at Cotsen Critix, our literary group for kids ages 9-12.

Basically, each member of the group was given a plain paper mache “book” and asked to fill it with objects and/or drawings that somehow relate to a character in a book. Words and writing were fine too, so long as they didn’t reveal the name of the character or the title of the book. Then, we put all the books on display and tried to guess who the characters were.

I purchased the paper mache books online from Discount School Supply. They call them “Papier-Mache “Secret” Books.” A set of 12 books costs $13.99.

paper mache bookMy favorite part of this project is the creativity and diversity of the books. Even if two kids chose the same character, it’s interesting to see the different elements they decide to include. Some even took on non-fiction “characters!”

ruby redfordRuby Redfort

apolloAncient Greek God Apollo (above photo shows both the cover of the book and the interior)

theresaTeresa Agnes

percy jackson 1Percy Jackson (recognize one of our Mythomagic cards in there?)

matildaMatilda

the wizard of ozThe Wizard of Oz

taylor swiftTaylor Swift (non-fiction biography…nice!)

percy jackson 2Percy Jackson

kate weatherallKate Wetherall (if you want your own red bucket with all the equipment, look here)

miloMilo

sadie kaneSadie Kane

jimmy gownleyJimmy Gownley (as depicted in The Dumbest Idea Ever, his graphic novel and memoir!).

annabethAnnabeth Chase (a Camp Half Blood map is drawn on the back cover of the book!)

Vroom Vroom, Zoom Zoom

mr. frumble pickle carPickle car anyone? The world of Richard Scarry is full of fantastical vehicles, and at last Saturday’s library event, we invited kids create a wheeled wonder and give it a test drive! For a slideshow gallery of some seriously fun vehicles, scroll to the bottom of the post.

The program was called Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, which is, of course, the title of one of Richard Scarry’s books (Golden Books, 1998). We were joined by our friends at scienceSeeds (who you might remember from this post). They brought all sorts of goodies. Little motors to take apart, homemade remote control cars, programmable LEGO cars, and this snazzy traffic light that demonstrated how simple circuits work. The back of the traffic light was open so kids could see how it was wired.

traffic lightBut scienceSeed’s most popular station by far was a set of 4 wooden ramps for car races. If you don’t have wooden ramps handy, cardboard ramps work too!

racing rampsMy library coordinated the car decoration portion of the program. Here’s how it worked. Kids arrived at the front of the gallery and were given two choices of vehicle. A “dragster” (which was a 7/8″ x 2″ x 8″ jewelry box), or a “truck,” (which was a 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9” craft box).

Older kids could skip the box and opt to build a car from scratch using craft sticks and balsa wood. Then, they attempted to get their creation down a race ramp without “cracking” a plastic egg passenger. Here’s an intrepid trio who worked together to design the ultimate vehicle.

engineersOnce kids selected a box, we taped two, 4″ plastic straws to its bottom. Then we threaded two, 6″ wooden rod “axles” through the straws. The wooden rods were BBQ skewers cut down to the proper size with pruning shears (and don’t forget to cut off the pointy end of the skewer!). The final step was to slide 4 plastic wheels on the ends of the wooden rods (later, kids used hot glue or tape on the ends of the rods to keep the wheels from sliding off). Here’s what the completed underside of a truck looked like:

axles and wheelsI purchased the wheels from Kelvin Educational, an online science supply company. They are 1-3/8″ in diameter. The wheels can be a little difficult to locate on the website, so here are the product numbers: black wheels are 990168 (they cost $10 for 100 wheels); colored wheels are 990169 (they cost $11 for 100 wheels).

wheelsAlternatives to the plastic wheels are wooden wheels, wooden spools, round foam beads, or tagboard circles with holes punched in them. Basically, if it rolls and has a hole in the center, you can use it!

Once the boxes were fitted with axles and wheels, kids proceeded to the decorating area. There, they found three, 6′ tables loaded with art supplies. University students from Stella Art Club and the Men’s Soccer team volunteered at both the art tables and the science area. They were amazing!

art materialsI don’t have a full list of all the art supplies we provided, but some that were particularly appreciated were mini pinwheels, animal finger puppets, and metallic springs (all 3 were purchased from Oriental Trading Company). Also popular were sparkle stems, fabric flowers, foam beads, and craft ties. A call for recyclables to University library staff also yielded some interesting one-off items, like decorative buttons, plastic bead necklaces, and little figurines.

We had work tables set up all over the gallery. They were stocked with markers, scissors, colored masking tape, packing tape, and glue sticks. There were 4 staff-operated hot glue stations too. Here’s the central work area in action:

central work area The final touch to the program was Katie’s brainchild…a “Find the Goldbug” game. Katie made, and hid, 5 Goldbugs in the gallery. Each Goldbug had a word written on its base. Kids had to find all the Goldbugs, decipher the “secret sentence” (it was “Everyone wants a pickle car”) and repeat the sentence to me or Katie. The prize? A little checkered racing flag to adorn your vehicle! The flags were “race car flag picks,” ordered from Oriental Trading Company (we made sure to cut the pointy ends off).

hidden goldbugKatie and I wore mechanics coveralls at the event (thanks to the Lewis Center for the Arts’ costume shop!). I managed to carry cough drops, my iPhone, my digital camera, the battery box for my microphone, my office keys, and lip balm in my coveralls. It was like I was wearing the most useful purse in the world. Coveralls are way comfortable too. Katie didn’t want to take hers off. I think I’ll get her a pair next holiday season. With her name stitched on the pocket.

team coverallAnd now, how about some amazing vehicles? Some kids fashioned little trailers for their vehicles. Some added pull strings. You might notice a few cellophane flames left over from this project. Love it!

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Thanks once again to Princeton University’s Men’s Soccer team and Stella Art Club. Your volunteerism, enthusiasm, and creativity was very much appreciated!